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Swim and sand time top the list of family fun at beaches near Wilmington, North Carolina. But Wrightsville, Carolina, and Kure Beaches have lots to do when you’re not splashing in the surf. Philadelphia TravelingMom Sarah Ricks explored a botanical garden, enjoyed an exhilarating sailboat ride, and visited the ruins of a Civil War-era fort. She’s got restaurant recommendations for foodies, for great ocean views, and for relaxing with family.
Family fun at beaches near Wilmington, North Carolina includes sailing, exploring a botanical garden, restaurants, visiting a Civil War fort, and more.
Sailing – Ride or Lesson
I have no idea how to sail. But I was happy to be a passenger for an exhilarating 2-hour sail with Wrightsville Performance Sailing. The talented Dustin skippered the elegant 26-foot racing sailboat. We skimmed across the waves at what felt like a 45-degree angle – exciting! My husband and I perched on the higher side of the boat. Periodically, Dustin warned my husband and me to switch our weight to the other side of the boat. Kids are welcome if they can quickly follow directions and switch sides as the boat tilts.
We enjoyed the view from the water and felt perfectly safe because Dustin was in control. Under Dustin’s expert guidance, I even got to take over steering the boat for a few thrilling minutes. But if you’re more intrepid than me, Wrightsville Performance Sailing also offers sailing lessons.
Family fun at beaches near Wilmington, North Carolina, includes the 67-acre Airlie Gardens. I was especially taken by the majesty of its 450-year-old oak tree. Each of the branches is the size of a big tree. We didn’t have kids with us at Airlie Gardens, but my kids would have enjoyed the butterfly house when they were little.
Given the serene walking paths through the gardens, I was surprised to stumble on the playful and eccentric beauty of The Bottle Chapel. This is a room-sized sculpture made of concrete and wine bottles. Looking carefully, we saw the bottles formed fantastical creatures and goofy faces. The Bottle Chapel is a tribute to a self-taught artist who worked as a ticket taker at Airlie Gardens for many years. It is a delight.
Fair warning: the gate to Airlie Gardens shuts a half-hour before closing time.
Fort Fisher State Historic Site
During the Civil War, Union forces blockaded the port of Wilmington. Confederate soldiers at Fort Fisher tried to keep the path to the port free of Union ships, to allow Confederates to get supplies into Wilmington.
Today, the remains of the Fort are part of a park with wooden walking paths, spooky trees, and lovely views of the marsh. Fort Fisher does not look like a traditional fort. Instead, the ruins of this Civil War fort look like mounds of grass-covered earth. The on-site museum about Fort Fisher was interesting, and a good option for a rainy day.
Wrightsville Beach Museum of History
We visited this museum to see its collection of notes left by anonymous people in a mailbox on the beach, an eccentric collection that reminded me of the Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia. While that was the draw, we also enjoyed learning local history.
Family fun at beaches near Wilmington, North Carolina – Restaurants
We enjoyed a wide range of restaurants at the beaches near Wilmington.
Places fit for foodies
After a walk on the beach, we revived with the tangy lime of fresh ceviche and guacamole at Ceviche’s Mexican restaurant. Ceviche’s opens at 5 pm and fills up right away.
Like Ceviche’s, another restaurant fit for foodies is Surf House in Carolina Beach. The shrimp grits had a smoky flavor so delicious I asked to meet the chef. The bourbon pecan tart was flaky, buttery perfection. Surf House relies on small local farms. While this gourmet restaurant would only work for kids who are into food, we loved both the food and the friendly atmosphere. For example, when they found out it was my husband’s birthday, the chefs sent over two glasses of champagne.
If you like picnics, check out Veggie Wagon in Carolina Beach. It’s a gourmet grocery with prepared foods, fresh produce, good breads, and a great selection of coffees and beer. Lucky us, we stopped by during the weekly beer tasting. If you want to start the day with a delicious farm-to-table breakfast, stay at Beacon House Inn Bed and Breakfast in Carolina Beach.
Restaurant with an ocean view
We enjoyed eating at Oceanic Restaurant, on a pier that juts over 400 feet into the ocean. The ocean view is unbeatable. Reservations are only for groups of 8, but we did call about ½ hour in advance to be put on the list for a table. While it is tempting to go near sunset, next time we will avoid the dinner rush by going in late afternoon or around 5 pm. It is also open for lunch.
Family fun at beaches near Wilmington, North Carolina could include the relaxed outdoor area of Seawitch Café and Tiki Bar, where we ate under palm trees. During the day, this is a family-friendly spot in Carolina Beach offers burgers, salads, and fish tacos. After 5 pm, it becomes a bar.
South Beach Grill in Wrightsville Beach also has casual, family-friendly outdoor tables. It specializes in fresh fish and salads. But I loved my barbecued pulled pork sandwich topped with caraway seed coleslaw on a squishy brioche bun.
Walking on the beach
Nothing beats sea air, the sound of surf, and barefoot walking in the sand. On Wrightsville Beach, a wooden pier stretches into the waves like a giant elegant sculpture. We could see the pier from a mile away as we walked along the sand to Oceanic restaurant, located on the pier. Standing underneath the pier, watching the waves roll in, was mesmerizing.
There is plenty of family fun at beaches near Wilmington, North Carolina, but one of the best things is that they are all an easy drive from Wilmington. We combined our beach visit with time in Wilmington, a lively small city with an historic downtown, a beautiful riverfront, antebellum houses, African-American history, and lots more.
Where is your favorite family fun at beaches near Wilmington, North Carolina? Tell us about it in the comments.